EPA Extends Comment Period on Groundbreaking Oil and Gas Proposal

Last Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a month-long extension to the original 60-day public comment period regarding its proposed changes to national oil and gas drilling standards. This includes what would be the first national standards for fracking.

The proposal, which was released in July of this year, would enforce new rules that would not only seek to improve air quality, but would benefit the oil and gas industry as well. The new rule would add well completion, compressors, pneumatic controllers, and storage vessels to the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), which currently only include processing plants.

According to the EPA, these new standards would reduce industry-wide volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by 25%, methane emission by 26%, and toxic air pollutants by 30%. By capturing the methane gas that, under current practices escapes into the air, the industry could save almost $30 million a year.

To gauge public opinion on the proposed changes, the EPA held conferences in Pittsburgh, Denver, and Arlington, Texas.  Recordings of these hearings, as well as a detailed outline of the proposal, are available on the agency’s website.

The proposal includes regulation for fracking, an increasingly popular retrieval method that involves forcing thousands of gallons of water and chemicals into the ground to fracture rock. Congress previously barred the EPA from creating fracking regulations, leaving it up to individual states. In some cases, especially on the east coast, this lead to unsafe disposal practices.

Fracking waste water contains not only the toxic chemicals used in the process itself, but can also contain heavy metals and radioactive material that are brought up as the water is removed from the rock. Under some states’ current standards, drilling companies are allowed to pass their waste water through public sewers, which are not always sufficiently equipped. This means that in some instances the waste can end up in streams, killing fish and contaminating drinking water. While the regulations do not explicitly address water contamination, they would provide a national standard for fracking-attributed air pollution, reducing VOC emissions and possibly providing an important premise for future regulations.

The 30-day extension may be contributed to pressure from natural gas and oil producers to extend to comment period, as well as the final ruling date from February 28 to April 3, 2012. If the EPA did indeed extend the comment period for this reason, public support of the regulations may become increasingly important during the next month.

To offer your support of the EPA’s proposed changes to gas and oil retrieval and processing practices, you can submit a comment directly to the EPA or through the Sierra Club.

Photo credit: epa.gov/sciencematters/june2010/images/fracking.jpg

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